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Q&A: Why it’s so important orgs move to mobile access controls

It’s important for organizations to move from outdated legacy systems to ensure their organizations have best-in-class security.

Computer display requiring password access. — Image © Tim Sandle
Computer display requiring password access. — Image © Tim Sandle

Many workers are unaware that they may be using outdated legacy physical card access systems that leave them vulnerable to hackers and unauthorized users. These outdated systems and passwords are also not as secure or as efficient as using digital wallets.

These points have been raised by David Cottingham, President at rf IDEAS. Cottingham explores in an interview with Digital Journal the importance of mobile access control and what the future looks like for mobile authentication.

Digital Journal: What is mobile access control, and why is it so important that organizations move to these systems as they look to secure endpoints across the entire ecosystem?

David Cottingham: Mobile access control is part of a security framework that authenticates users, regulating logical access to networks, data and systems. Mobile access, which includes credentials in the digital wallet, or using Bluetooth via a mobile phone app, offers a stronger alternative to physical proximity ID badges, which are often used for both physical and logical access. They also help employees more efficiently gain access to workstations, networks and more systems across the organization that require user authorization.

It’s important for organizations to move from outdated legacy systems to ensure their organizations have best-in-class security; mobile solutions are seamless and allow employee badges stored in Apple Wallet to get you in the door and authenticate your identity to a variety of endpoints throughout the workplace. Ultimately a mobile access control solution provides the convenience of using a mobile device that many employees want while also providing an upgrade from less secure, legacy, physical ID cards.

DJ: What are the benefits of employees being able to use digital wallets for authentication in the workplace?

Cottingham: If you were to leave your smartphone at home on the way to work, you’d turn around and go get it – whereas leaving your physical work badge behind might not be enough to make you turn the car around. Unlike physical badges, your smartphone is essential to your everyday life, so you always have it on you. This makes it easier for employees to have quick access to their networks and workstations while enhancing security.

Smartphones come with built-in security such as passwords and fingerprint and facial recognition to unlock the device and sometimes even a second form of authentication to access a Wallet once the phone is unlocked. This provides even more levels of security required to gain access to a space, while still prioritizing speed and convenience in ways that ID badges can’t.

DJ: Where do you see applications and industries that need to make this switch?

Cottingham: Digital wallets are a great option for a variety of industries such as healthcare, enterprise, government, hospitality and higher education — especially for organizations that are looking for added security in a hybrid workforce. Two that really stick out to me though are financial services and hospitals. The finance industry is riddled with legacy systems and outdated technology, proving a massive point of vulnerability and exposing both the sector and its stakeholders to potential attacks. Among these legacy systems is printing, considering that 60 percent of enterprises experience data breaches linked to inadequate printer security measures.

An upgrade to a secure pull print solution can coincide with an upgrade to mobile credentials. Hospitals are another major target for cyberattacks, so it’s more important than ever that strong security measures are in place to secure protected health information, while optimizing workforce efficiency. An upgrade to mobile credentials in healthcare settings can provide an upgrade in security while also improving efficiency for staff by minimizing passwords that can lead to inefficient and frustrating password resets.  

Another prime example is in manufacturing. We work with a Fortune 100 vehicle manufacturer who wanted to authenticate and standardize all of its systems for both operational and HR purposes to increase efficiency and lower costs without compromising security. By implementing credential readers, they were able to also incorporate multi-factor authentication (MFA) and role-based access control (RBAC) which assigned user permissions based on roles and responsibilities, adding additional security to the system. This switch to mobile helped the manufacturer shift from producing and distributing 4,000 physical credentials annually to instead offering a mobile-based solution that deployed 5,000 readers as part of their credential solution.

DJ: How does NFC technology work within mobile access control to further secure authentication?

Cottingham: Near Field Communication (NFC) enables credential readers, and mobile devices to leverage the built in digital wallets to allow communication and share data with one another across a short distance. This technology through mobile access enables users to simply tap-and-go within a very short range and uses the same industry-standard security technologies used in contactless payment cards. It’s virtually impossible to hack into or clone an NFC credential, adding to the credibility of its promise for further secure authentication. NFC enabled authentication is an ideal option for next-level security situations where you need to verify users, such as passwordless single sign-on to workstations, secure print, visitor management, access controls for manufacturing and more.

DJ: How does the use of digital wallets help to prevent emerging security threats?

Cottingham: Digital wallets are more secure than passwords, which are often at the root of security breaches and cyber threats. Compared to secure digital credentials, legacy proximity card systems are less secure and can be cloned easily which is why digital wallets present a better, more secure, modernized solution that requires secure authentication to protect people, processes and data in industries such as healthcare and manufacturing.

Switching to mobile can also help simplify credential management; IT administrators can digitally distribute credentials in real-time as compared to physical badges that need to be mailed or delivered by hand. Mobile Wallet credentials can also be removed remotely from a phone when an employee leaves the company.

DJ: What are some of the most significant barriers for organizations to adopt mobile authentication? How can they solve for those barriers?

Cottingham: Many workers aren’t aware that their legacy physical card access systems are outdated (sometimes by over 25 years) leaving them vulnerable to hackers and unauthorized users. While Fortune 100-500 companies are the earliest adopters of mobile credentials, only 25-30 percent of users have made the switch, meaning a relatively large market hasn’t adopted this technology. There needs to be more education on why now is the time for companies to move away from legacy card systems to create a modern, digital-first security strategy.

Over the next two years, we’re expecting to see mid-sized to large corporations adopt mobile technology, and within the next 3-5 years, smaller organizations will follow suit. One barrier keeping them from joining the early adopters is cost. Companies have invested a lot into traditional access control methods (namely keycards) and may think it unreasonable to “rip and replace” their current systems.

However, organizations need to think about future-proofing their network and protecting themselves against hackers who are evolving with the technology. A breach or attack can be much more costly, and proactively implementing more secure mobile access solutions will save time and money in the long run. Having authentication solutions in place that are the most secure, such as mobile, is the only answer to safeguarding from these attacks.

DJ: How are organizations using mobile authentication within digital wallets in the office?

Cottingham: Making NFC access available in digital wallets can help change how workers navigate corporate buildings and spaces, allowing access “beyond the door”. This means workers can easily access secure printing, time and attendance tracking, reserve and use meeting rooms, and even offer support to remote workers to log in to their network securely from home. With these single sign-on credentials, employees can eliminate passwords to streamline log-on efficiencies and utilize multi-factor authentication to help secure endpoints that may be vulnerable to cyberattacks, particularly those that start with a compromised password.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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